State education suffers from biased media coverage

Janet Downs's picture

How often do we see headlines trashing state education? Consider the Daily Mail's headline about the recent OECD PISA results, "Travesty of our 'stagnating' schools: In a damning indictment of Labour, OECD condemns British education..." There were so many inaccuracies in this article that my letter of complaint covered four pages. Inaccuracies such as:

1 "Below average in maths" (actual information was "not statistically different from OECD average)
2 The science results were a "disappointment" (actual information was "significantly above the OECD average")
3 Printing a highly critical word spoken by an OECD official. When I emailed him, he told me that the Mail had paraphrased his words about parental expectations. Yet they put this paraphrase in quotation marks giving the words an authority they did not deserve.
4 Said that Poland "languished" below OECD average before 2000. There were no OECD averages before 2000 when the tests were done for the first time.
5 Said selection played "a significant part" in Poland's high figures. Then contradicted themselves by saying that in Poland "about 15%" of schools were fully selective. This means that 85% were not.
6 Said "streaming was a factor" in Polish schools but added "not until after the age of 16". It would have been more honest to say that streaming was not a factor.

The worst error was in comparing the UK 2000 results with those of 2009 thereby showing a sharp decline. Yet the OECD stated in the same report that the UK 2000 results were flawed and should not be used for comparison purposes.

However, the Mail wasn't alone in publishing these distorted figures. They also appeared on the Government's own Press Releases and in the preamble to the Education White Paper.

Mr Gove is using these discredited figures to push through his radical reforms.

The attempt to change our education system is based on distortion and lies.

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Francis Gilbert's picture
Thu, 23/12/2010 - 16:31

I think part of the problem is that so few people in the "higher" echelons of the media actually send their children to state schools. In this way, the mainstream at the media at the moment really doesn't reflect the 93% of parents who send their children to state schools.

Andrew Nadin's picture
Thu, 23/12/2010 - 18:53

Not sure I totally agree, Francis. The Daily (hate) Mail in particular NEVER let the facts get in the way of a good rant - irrespective of the subject on offer. I think any bias is a combination of the 'ranting generation' (i.e. the necessity to be extreme in all opinion in order to garner 'followers' e.g. our very own Toby Young) and lazy journalism.
Doesn't change the fact that journalists, specifically Toby et al, will argue in extremis, in print media, but refuse to engage in open public debate. The right of reply is an inconvenience to the lazy and the right wing radical.

Rufus's picture
Mon, 21/02/2011 - 11:04

Jamie's Dream School is the latest example of the media's trivialisation of education. I agree that there is almost blanket negative distortion on the media's coverage of the teaching profession. For example, yesterday's Sunday Times features two articles focusing on deficiencies in the quality of teachers.

I have never encountered a workforce remotely as dedicated, stretched, passionate, hard working, challenged and willing to develop as in the teaching profession. The media could fill their copy with the great work that already goes on in every school, every day across the country.

Does anyone know of any organisation that analyses the media coverage of education?

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